Year A – 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Leaving Our Nets Behind

(Is.8:23-9:3; 1Cor.1:10-1,17; Mt.4:12-23)

King Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee, was ruthless.  He thought that John the Baptist was a threat to his power because he was so popular.  So he had him gaoled. [i]

Jesus grieves when he hears this.  John is his cousin, and he’s done a great job giving hope to so many people who have lived in darkness and despair under the Romans.  But now that John’s voice has been silenced, Jesus must take over.  It’s his turn to start proclaiming the kingdom of God. 

Jesus knows this is a huge task, so he starts looking for help.  He isn’t looking for prominent or well-educated disciples, however.  He wants ordinary people living ordinary lives, and he’s going to invite them to do extraordinary things.

Near Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, he sees two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, and James and John – all fishermen.  Jesus says, ‘come follow me; I will make you fishers of men’.  They all promptly drop their nets and follow him. 

Now, why do these fishermen so quickly agree to leave their nets behind?  It’s because they already know Jesus. They’ve been following John the Baptist and they’ve started to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. [ii] They’re ready for a change.

So these first disciples drop their nets. They walk away from the safety and security of their jobs and homes, and they start living new lives. 

Today, Jesus is calling us to do the same.  Not necessarily to leave our jobs and homes, of course, but he does want us to follow him.  In fact, he’s constantly calling on us to do this through the ordinary events of our daily lives.  And if we’re interested, we must be prepared to let go of anything that gets in the way.  

Sometimes, to move forward, we have to take a step back.

Everyone who wants to follow Jesus has to leave something behind.  You can’t live a new life by hanging on to the old one.  This letting go is sometimes called Detachment.  

Detachment doesn’t mean withdrawing totally from the world, because God loves our world and Jesus wants to heal it (Jn.3:16).  But before we can help Jesus make this world a better place, we must first change ourselves.

This means we must let some things go (Rom.12:2).

Too many Christians, however, are only lukewarm about their call.  They don’t want to be inconvenienced.  They don’t want to change.  So they drag their nets along after them and sometimes they get tangled up in them.  

Joseph Krempa says the problem is that we want the kingdom without changing ourselves.  ‘It’s like those who want the meal, but not the cooking; who want the grades but not the study; who want health, but not exercise; who want the salary, but not the work’.

We want all the benefits of God – the peace, the forgiveness, the growth in grace, and the sense of belonging to a spiritual community, but we don’t want to give up the nets, the entanglements that trap us, that hold us back… These are the people, the relationships and the obsessions that separate us from Christ.

‘We don’t want to give up gossiping, cutting corners, wrong relationships, immoral behaviour, habits of arrogance, rash judgments or addictions.  So we try to have it both ways, but we can’t.  Those nets weigh us down and hold us tight.’ 

All these entanglements distort our soul and mind and heart and keep us away from Jesus. [iii]

St. John of the Cross tells us that a bird tied down to earth can’t fly; it doesn’t matter if it’s tied with a thread or a rope.  An attachment is still an attachment, no matter how great or how small. Some are greater than others, but they all impede our progress.

So, if we want this new life, where do we start?  We should start with our minds.  Everything in us begins with the way we think.  There’s a wise maxim that says:

Watch over your thoughts because they become words. Watch over your words because they become actions.
Watch over your actions because they become habits.
Watch over your habits because they become your character.
Watch over your character because it becomes your destiny. [iv]

So, begin by praying to Jesus, asking him to help you.  Ask him to help you identify the things that are holding you back; the things you really need to let go.  Tell Jesus that you accept his call, and that you want to become a good disciple. 

Tell him that you’re serious about changing your life for the better.

What nets are you trapped in?   

[i] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. Book 18, chapter 5.2


[iii] S Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire – Cycle A. St Paul’s, New York. 2005:73.


Year A – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On Breaking Our Fall

(Is.49:3,5-6; 1Cor.1:1-3; Jn.1:29-34)

In Madrid’s Prado Museum there’s a painting called Agnus Dei (‘Lamb of God’) by the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664).  It depicts a young lamb on a grey slab, set against a black wall.  Its legs are tied and it’s ready to be sacrificed.

This powerful and confronting image symbolises the ministry of Jesus Christ.  But where does it come from and what does it mean?

To answer that we have to go back to ancient times, when many cultures worshipped God through animal sacrifice. They believed they were unworthy to approach God without first sacrificing something they considered valuable. So the Jewish people used to sacrifice lambs, but also bulls, sheep, goats, doves and even grains.

When the ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God heard their cry for freedom and at the Burning Bush he asked Moses to secure their release. But Pharaoh refused, so God sent a succession of plagues to soften his resistance.

Just before the final plague, God instructed every Jewish family to sacrifice a lamb and to paint its blood on their door posts.  This was culturally appropriate for the time, and it helped the Angel of Death to identify and ‘pass over’ their homes. Only then did Pharaoh allow them to leave (Ex.12:1-27).

Those sacrificed lambs meant new life for the Jewish people, as they journeyed from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. They have been celebrating their ‘Passover’ ever since. [i]

The Gospel of John, from which today’s Gospel reading comes, often alludes to the Passover.  It begins with John the Baptist announcing Jesus’ arrival to his disciples: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’  And it ends with Jesus being crucified at the very same time that the lambs are slaughtered in the nearby Temple.

John’s message to us is clear:  Jesus is the ultimate and perfect Lamb of God.

Now, the problem with the Law of Moses and its prescriptions for animal sacrifice is that the people never changed.  They just continued living their sinful lives (Heb.10:4; Rom.8:3). 

A new, more effective, approach was required, so God sent his only Son to live among us, to teach us how to live.  He taught us that selfless love is the only necessary form of sacrifice.  But sadly, it resulted in his crucifixion. 

Why did Jesus die on the Cross?  It wasn’t because God demanded a blood offering.  Not at all. Jesus sacrificed himself because that is the essence of true love (Phil.2:5-8).  We know from our own experience that we cannot truly love others without making sacrifices.  And losing our life for the sake of another is the supreme test of love (1Jn.3:16-18; Eph.5:1-2).  That’s why Jesus died.

The Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr writes: ‘In the Hebrew tradition, the Passover lamb was a perfect, unblemished sheep or goat that apparently lived in the family home for four days before it was sacrificed (Ex.12:1-8). That’s just long enough for the children to fall in love with the lamb’. 

The innocent lamb, he says, symbolises not only the innocent Christ, but also the illusion of our innocent selves.  We must shed this false image if we are to grow spiritually, so it is precisely the beloved and innocent ‘lamb’ that must die.

Rohr adds that we must accept that we’re all complicit and profiting from the corporate ‘sin of the world’ and no one is pure or innocent. [ii]

We know that our world is full of sin, violence and corruption.  And we know that in the end our world cannot promise us anything other than the dark emptiness of death.   

But Jesus wants so much more for us (Jn.10:10).  That’s why he showed us how to live a life of love, even to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice.  And it’s incredibly significant that he also rose again to new life. 

Jesus’ selfless act is actually the new Passover from death to life: for him and for us all.

In Werden, Germany, there’s a church with a statue of a lamb on the roof. During its construction, a stonemason fell from the scaffolding.  His co-workers thought he’d died, but he survived. Some sheep had been passing below the tower and a lamb had broken his fall.   That lamb died, but the man was saved. 

In gratitude for saving his life, the stonemason carved a statue of the lamb and placed it on the tower. [iii]

If it weren’t for Jesus’ self-sacrifice, we too would be falling into oblivion.  Without Jesus, there’s no escape from sin, there’s no escape from death. 

The perfect Lamb of God however has broken our fall.  Jesus has saved us.

But – only if we have faith and follow in his way.


[ii] Richard Rohr, Doing the Victim Thing Right.


Year A – Baptism of the Lord

On a Name Like No Other

(Is.42:1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34-38; Mt.3:13-17)

‘What’s in a name?’ Juliet asks in Shakespeare’s famous play. She loves Romeo, but their families are at war.

Names are just an arbitrary tag, Juliet thinks.  She loves the man, not his moniker: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, she says. [i]  But are our names so unimportant?

The German poet Goethe (1749-1832) once wrote: ‘A man’s name is not like a mantle which merely hangs about him, and which one perchance may safely twitch and pull, but a perfectly fitting garment, which, like the skin, has grown over and over him, at which one cannot rake and scrape without injuring the man himself.’ [ii]

Our names serve many purposes.  They distinguish us from others, they bind us to history, and they underpin our identity and personality. And a good name is especially valuable, for it reflects integrity and it earns trust (Prov.22:1). 

But to lose one’s name can be a wretched thing.  Jean Valjean, in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, feels degraded when he’s called ‘24601’ in prison.[iii]  And David Pelzer, in his memoir A Child Called It, finds it dehumanising when his abusive mother starts calling him ‘The Boy’ and ‘It’ when he’s only four. [iv]

Names, however, can also give new life.  In Genesis, God renames Abram and Sarai. They become Abraham and Sarah, the ‘father and mother of many nations’ (Gen.17:5, 15).  God also gives Jacob (meaning ‘cheat’) a new identity.  He becomes Israel (‘struggles with God and prevails’), reflecting his new role as patriarch of the Israelites (Gen.32:28).

And Jesus gives Simon a new name (Jn.1:42), calling him Peter, ‘the rock on which I will build my church’ (Mt.16:18). 

In each case, God embeds his love, and their special mission, in their names. 

Today, as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ, we remember that every baptism starts with the question: ‘What name do you give your child?’  This sacrament is essentially about our identity.  It’s about who we are, and who we will become. 

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River marks a new beginning for him. He’s filled with the Holy Spirit and his Father announces: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased’.  At that moment, Jesus’ identity changes.

He’s no longer just the humble carpenter’s son.  He’s now the beloved Son of God, and this is the start of his public ministry.

Jesus’ name still sounds the same, but its essence has completely changed.  His mission – his life purpose – is now deeply embedded in his name.

And so it is with us.  At Baptism our identity changes, too.  We’re initiated into the life of Christ and we’re warmly welcomed as members of God’s holy family (Eph.1:5).  

And our mission is embedded in our name, as well.

Bishop Robert Barron says that one of the earliest descriptions of Baptism is vitae spiritualis ianua, which means ‘the door to the spiritual life’.

Christianity, he says, isn’t just about ‘becoming a good person’ or ‘doing the right thing’. Rather, to be a Christian is to be grafted onto Christ and hence drawn into the very dynamics of God’s inner life.  We become a member of his Mystical Body, sharing in his relationship to the Father. [v]

Pope Benedict XVI puts it this way.  He says that Baptism always repeats the last words of Jesus in the Gospels: ‘in the name of the Father, of the Son, of the Holy Spirit’ (Mt 28:19).  This expression in the Greek text is critical, he says, for it means an immersion into the name of the Trinity.  Baptism therefore leads to an ‘interpenetration of God’s being and our being, just like in marriage, when two persons become one flesh and a single new reality’ is formed.

Pope Benedict XVI adds that in the Scriptures, God calls himself ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ (Gen.50:24; Ex.3:15). This is precisely what happens when we’re baptised, he says.  We become inserted into the name of God, so that we belong to his name and his name becomes our name, too, and we’re enabled to be a sign of who he is. [vi]

A name, then, is so much more than a label, especially after Baptism.  Each name tells a story and paves the way for a lifetime of noble purpose.

When we’re immersed in the waters of Baptism, we’re simultaneously immersed in the life of God.  We’re filled with his Holy Spirit and we emerge with a name like no other.  And embedded in it is our own special mission.

At his Baptism, Jesus knows that things have changed.  He goes into the desert for forty days to reflect on what it means and what God wants him to do next.

We should do the same.

So, what is your name? 

And what is your special mission?

[i] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet,


[iii] Victor Hugo, Les Miserables,




Year A – The Epiphany of the Lord

On a Light in the Darkness

[Is.60:1-6; Eph.3:2-3, 5-6; Mt.2:1-12]

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord. In common parlance, an epiphany is a moment of sudden awakening.  It’s a moment of clarity when a light shines in the darkness and we see something new.

The Feast of the Epiphany, however, is much more than that.  It’s the celebration of the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah – God-made-man – and the visit of the Wise Men from the East is his first appearance to the Gentiles.  It reveals that Jesus’ mission is not just to the Jewish people, but also to the whole world. 

Pope Benedict says that these Magi represent a new beginning for humanity, as people start journeying towards Christ.  This is a procession, he says, that has continued all through history. [i]

But, he adds, although ‘twenty centuries have passed since that mystery was revealed, it has not yet reached fulfilment, (for) an overall view of the human race shows that this mission is still only beginning’. [ii]

God has always loved us (Ps.136), so how is it that Jesus’ mission is only just starting?  Matthew’s Gospel today helps us to understand.  It reveals that people tend to respond to Jesus in one of three ways – but sadly, only one is positive. 

The first response is fear.  When the Wise Men ask Herod where the infant King of the Jews might be, he feels threatened.  The Romans then were at war with the Parthian Empire, and the previous king of Judea, Antigonus, was a Parthian ally. The Romans had him executed and had Herod replace him. 

Herod knows that the Magi come from Parthia, and he fears for his throne.  So he feigns interest in their search, but secretly he plans to kill Jesus.  When the Magi fail to return, he has every infant boy in Bethlehem slaughtered (Mt.2:16).

This fear of Jesus and his message continues today.  We see it in the Middle East, China and elsewhere, where intolerant regimes persecute Christians.  We see it in some organisations and individuals, too.  Whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of change or fear of the truth, they’re hostile towards Jesus.

The second response to Jesus is indifference, and we see this in the priests and scribes.  When Herod asks where the infant king might be, they know it’s Bethlehem because they know their Scripture. 

The Jewish people had been searching for the Messiah since Moses first prophesied his coming (Deut.18:15), and Micah even foretold where to find him (Mic.5:2).  So why don’t these religious leaders go to Bethlehem themselves?  After all, it’s only 9 km (6 miles) from Jerusalem.  

It’s because they are too proud and too self-important to bother.  Many people are like this today.  They’ll only accept Jesus on their own terms.  I once asked a young woman if she was Catholic.  She replied, ‘Oh no. I don’t belong to any church. I won’t join any until I find one that agrees with everything I believe.’

Some people don’t want to be challenged.  They don’t want to change, even if it’s for the better.

The third response to Jesus is adoration. In ancient Israel shepherds were outcast because their work was dirty and Jewish society was obsessed with cleanliness. However, when they hear that the Saviour has come for all people, and not just for the few, they rush to welcome and adore him (Lk.2:1-20).

The Magi, too, adore Jesus.  They traverse vast deserts and brave enemy lands to find him.  As St. John Baptist de La Salle said, ‘They feared nothing, because the faith which inspired them… caused them to forget and even scorn all human considerations…’ [iii]

Like the shepherds, the Wise Men can see what Herod and the religious leaders cannot: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us (Lk.19:10; Mk.2:17; Is.49:16). They realise that to experience Jesus is to know God personally.

Martin Luther King Jr once said, ‘We may feel at times that we don’t need God, but then one day the storms of disappointment will begin to rage and if we don’t have a deep and patient faith our emotional lives will be ripped to shreds.  This is why there’s so much frustration in the world.

‘We’re relying on gods rather than God.  We’ve genuflected before the god of science, only to find that it has given the atomic bomb, producing fears that science can never mitigate. We’ve worshipped the god of pleasure, only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived. We’ve bowed before the god of money only to learn that in a world of possible depressions, money is a rather uncertain deity.

‘These transitory gods cannot save or bring happiness to the human heart,’ he said. ‘Only God is able. It’s faith in him that we must rediscover.’ [iv]

A light is shining in the darkness right now, and Jesus’ manifestation forces us to choose. 

What is your response?  Is it fear? 


Or adoration?

[i] Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Image: New York. 2012:89.